By: Amy Wise
So I have a question: Did you know that in general books written by black authors are shelved in the African American section? Did any of you out there realize that? Unless of course you are Toni Morrison or friends with Oprah, black authors are pretty much housed in their own “special” section.
A fellow writer who happens to be black recently published her first novel. A few months ago, just prior to her publication date, she sent out an interesting request. We are all on a writers’ site together and one of her posts was: “Wanted: White Ambassadors to Help Me Cross Over”. Seriously, that was her post! After I read this request she sent out, I wrote about it on my blog… http://themanyshadesoflove.blogspot.com/2010/07/ill-be-your-white-friend.html.
I thought she had such guts and honesty by asking that simple “favor.” She knew that unless she got the word out to others outside her “circle,” her book would end up in the African American section and her audience would be limited. Her post caused quite the stir and received both sympathy and “are you kidding me?” responses. I get it though. You spend all this time writing and coming up with this wonderful story that has nothing to do with being black or white, and then boom, you are put into a category that many readers will never venture to. It’s so silly. A lot of people who read her request had never thought of her situation because of course, if you are a white writer there is no “white section!” Romance, mystery, memoir, self-help, religious…yes…but “white section”? No way!
Why am I on such a rant about this issue so long after her post? Well, the writer that I’m talking about is now published and I promised her when the book was pubbed that I would buy it. So off I went to Borders this past weekend and I was so happy to find her book stocked in the store. There it was on the computer…Substitute Me, by Lori Tharps. I had looked in the store on previous occasions but it was only available online. I was thrilled to see that I could finally get her book, take it home and get to reading! Imagine the look on my face when I saw that her book was located in the….drum roll please….African American section! You have to be freakin’ kidding me! Yes indeed, that’s exactly where it was. I literally laughed out loud at the ridiculousness of it and how spot-on Lori was about where her book would end up!
Off I went to the African American section, perusing the shelves for Lori’s book while noticing the obvious glances my way. I truly wanted to share my dismay and story with the other women in the section, but I was so heated I didn’t want the guys with the white coats to show up for the crazy lady in the African American section at Borders! So instead, I bought the book, went home, and emailed my experience to Lori. She was irritated, but of course not surprised. Unless we stop putting people, books, music, and everything else in categories, that’s exactly where we are going to stay. Let’s all start thinking outside the box, people. You might be surprised at all the new things you will learn and enjoy. Until then, I’ll see ya at the bookstore…you can find me in the African American section.
Amy Wise is a Writer in San Diego.